The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Great Wall of China in Beijing, the ethereal Li River and Longji rice terraces of Guilin, and the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Xian are just a taste of the vast number of remarkable destinations for visitors to China. Since 2015, the country has made it easier for travelers to explore a particular city of choice with its new 72-hour and 144-hour visa-free transit program. The short duration may not make as much sense for travelers from the West, due to the cost of getting there, but those who live closer or who are traveling to or from a nearby country in the area will definitely want to take advantage of the option.
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Beijing is China’s exuberant capital city. It has no fewer than six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Summer Palace, the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Zhoukoudian cave system and archaeological site and, of course, the Great Wall of China. Visitors to Beijing will want to make each of these culturally significant sites a priority. Another must-see is Tiananmen Square, where visitors will see Tiananmen Tower, the Great Hall of the People, and other significant monuments. Modern Beijing offers world-class museums and galleries, impressive modern architecture, traditional Chinese performing arts like the Peking opera, and thousands of extraordinary restaurants.
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Shanghai, which translates to “city by the sea” is exactly that, situated along the west side of the Pacific Ocean with the East China Sea to the east. Nestled in the center of China’s coastline, it is a vital river and sea port that gives easy access to its backcountry. The city itself is divided into two areas due to the Huangpu River; Pudong, the more modern area, is on the east side of the river while Puxi is on the west side of the river. It boasts an abundant number of attractions with top highlights including the People’s Square, Yu Garden, Lujiazui, Century Park, and the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street.
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Shenzhen is a beautiful coastal city located just over 20 miles away from Hong Kong. It borders the mouth of the Pearl River to the west, Dapeng Bay to the east, and the New Territory of Hong Kong to the south. The city is one of the most popular destinations in China due to its amusement centers, magnificent architecture, pristine beaches, and gorgeous landscape. The city is alive with culture and an energetic spirit, boasting a multitude of entertainment performances, festivals, and celebrations. Among its attraction highlights is the Window of the World, a theme park that features recreations of more than 130 famous attractions from all over the globe.
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Chengdu is a 3000-year-old cultural city in the western Sichuan Basin and the capital of Sichuan Province. This picturesque area is known for its local folk customs, traditional crafts, and rich culture. However, it’s the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center that brings travelers to Chengdu from all over the world for a chance to see the giant pandas. The Giant Panda Museum focuses public awareness on the threats to wild animals and their environments. Jinsha Site Museum displays the archaeological artifacts of the Jinsha site, including ivory, gold, and jade pieces, as well as realistic stone statues of kneeling figures, tigers, and snakes.
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The modern port city of Chongqing sits at the confluence of the Jailing and Yangtze rivers. Yangtze River cruises to the spectacular Three Gorges begin here. Visitors taking the river cruise can expect to see famous sites like Chalk Wall, the hanging coffins of Bellows Gorge, the giant Rhinoceros Looking at the Moon, the Meng Liang Stairway, and Hanging Monk Rock. Another can’t-miss attraction is the Dazu Rock Carvings, with over 50,000 well-preserved statues and 100,000 Chinese characters. Back in the city, visitors will want to see the People’s Assembly Hall and the Chongqing Three Gorges Museum across Renmin Square, among eight other cultural symbols in the city.
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Dalian is perched at the tip of the Liáodong Peninsula along the Yellow Sea. This modern seaside city has beautiful beaches, urban green space, and an impressive downtown. Xinghai Square, the city’s largest square, is host to an annual international beer festival, and 19th-century Russian Zhongshan Square is the most famous square. Tiger Beach Ocean Park is a marine park featuring a polar museum, coralarium, marine animal hall, and underwater experience. Outside the city in the Jinshou District, the Golden Pebble Beach National Resort hosts Dalian Discovery Kingdom, a theme park referred to as “the Disneyland of China.” Visitors will also find a golf course, flower exhibition hall, wax museum, and other attractions there.
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Guangzhou, also known as “Flower City” for its subtropical blooms, is China’s southern gateway to Guangdong Province. The ancient city with a 2,200-year-old history has the distinction of being the beginning of the Maritime Silk Road. Though it’s a thoroughly modern city, it has deep roots in Lingnan indigenous culture, which permeates all facets of the city, from architecture to music to food. Some must-see attractions include a night cruise along the Pearl River to take in views of the city’s lovely Chinese architecture, panoramic city views from the astonishing 2,000-foot Canton Tower, and Chen Clan Academy’s folk art-styled historical hall of ancestor worship
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Guilin is China’s dream destination for travelers from around the world. The Li River trip between Guilin and Yangshuo is an absolute must-do activity, with literally hundreds of hills on either side of the emerald green river, often cloaked in mist. If that isn’t otherworldly enough, visitors can take in the glorious Longji (Longsheng) rice terraces, which display a new kind of magic with each season. Other Guilin attractions include the Dreaming Li River acrobatic show, the famous Elephant Trunk Hill, and the magnificently colorful Reed Flute Cave. Jingjiang Prince City, the incredible 1,400-year-old banyan tree, and Impression Sister Liu Light Shows should also make every traveler’s must-do list.
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Hangzhou is a land of temples, gardens, arched bridges, and pavilions that has been a popular travel destination since the 9th century. The central attraction here is West Lake, with the Su Causeway, Broken Bridge, Pavilion of the Autumn Moon, and more. Yue Fei Temple at the end of Su Causeway holds 86 stone tablets with texts of Confucius. The Pagoda of the Six Harmonies provides lovely views of the Qiantang River. Lingyin Temple, a famous Buddhist monastery, showcases 12th-century sculptures and a gilded Buddha statue 20 meters tall. Other highlights include the Chinese National Silk Museum, Qinghefang Ancient Street in the historic district, and Longjing, home to the world famous Longjing tea.
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The best time to visit Harbin is January during the annual Ice Lantern Festival and the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. This ice and snow art festival draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe. Visitors will be awestruck by the international cultural event as ice sculpting competitors from around the world communicate with sculptures, light, and music. Several winter sports competitions add to the excitement, and cultural entertainment is woven into the event. The three best venues are Sun Island, Ice and Snow World, and Zhaolin Park, the last of which hosts the Ice Lantern Garden Party. Nicknamed Ice City, Harbin is also the economic, political, educational, and cultural pearl of northeastern China.
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Huangshan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, known for its premier tea culture and picturesque beauty. It neighbors the Jiangxi Province, Zhejiang Province, Xuancheng City, and Chizhou City. Huangshan is steeped in rich history and boasts a beautiful natural landscape; it also serves as a support area for Yellow Mountain. The ancient dwellings of the Hongcun and Xidi villages only add to its appeal, where visitors are welcome to immerse themselves in their culture and indulge in a cup of their traditional maofeng tea. Additional highlights of the area include the Tangyue Archways, the Huizhou Ancient City, the Mukeng Bamboo Forest, and Shexian County.
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Lhasa is the stunning capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region, located in the South Central area of the district, situated on the Kyichu River’s north bank bordered by a mountain valley. The city’s splendor is defined by the meaning of its name, the Buddha Land or the Holy Land, and acts as the heart of Tibet’s culture, politics, and economy. As one of the 24 appointed historical and cultural cities in China, it boasts a wealth of sights that encompass both characteristics. Among the most popular is the Potala Palace, a world-famous symbol that showcases the mysterious power of religion and politics this region is known for.
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Lijiang is a magnificent tourist town located in the Yunnan Province known for its culture and natural surroundings featuring snowy mountains and tranquil crystal-clear streams. Much of the landscape is undisturbed, and the people who live here are known for their warm and welcoming spirit. Lijiang rules over four counties and has an Old Town District that is especially popular among visitors due to its inhabitants, the Naxi People, and their vibrant ancient culture and energetic nightlife. The Old Town District is also a beautifully preserved area that has been listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, as it maintains the original lifestyle, cultural heritage, and architecture known to the region.
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Nanjing is the capital of the Jiangsu Province, situated along Yangtze River’s south bank, a beautiful destination boasting a rich historical and cultural heritage. In ancient Chinese history, Nanjing is known for being the Capital City of Six or Ten Dynasties, so it’s no surprise that it’s an epicenter of museums, memorials, and historical and cultural sights. Among the highlights are the iconic Confucius Temple, Nanjing Museum, Former Residence of the Wang and Xie Families, and the Imperial Examination Museum of China. One of the most impressive is the first observatory China ever built, the Zijinshan Observatory, also known as the Purple Mountain Observatory, just east of the city center.
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Qingdao is situated in the southeast region of the Shandong Province, a magnificent seaside city that is bordered by the sea on three sides, two of which feature the Yellow Sea. Just east of the city across the Yellow Sea are Japan and Korea, making Qingdao a valuable port for international trade. It is also home to Asia’s largest bathing beach and boasts beautiful architecture with both European and Japanese influences due to their occupation of the area up until 1949. Qingdao’s attractions are plentiful, with highlights such as Eight Passes Villas, Zhan Bridge, Golden Sand Beach, Mt. Laoshan, Lu Xun Park, and Underwater World.
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Sanya is located at the southernmost tip of the Hainan Province, covering roughly 740 square miles and boasting nearly 130 miles of stunning coastline. It has been dubbed the South Gate of China due to its many harbors, which allow it to be an important importing and exporting city. Visitors enjoy the area’s tropical monsoon climate, which offers a gentle warmth in all seasons except for summer, when it’s the hottest. Sanya is known for its golden beaches, which include Dadonghai, Sanya Bay, and Asian Dragon Bay as well as the aquatic adventures that Wuzhizhou Island offers. It’s also known for its culture, mountains, rivers, and incredible culinary delights.
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Suzhou is one of the most ancient towns in the Yangtze Basin, located near Taihu Lake, the most abundant area in the Basin. The Yangtze River borders it to the north, Shanghai is on its east, and Wuxi City is to the west. It’s famous for its Grand Canal with a web of interlocking canals, UNESCO Heritage listed classical gardens, and for being the capital of the silk industry. Its refined beauty and incredible architecture draw visitors to the city, but the various sights and attractions keep them enthralled. The ancient village of Luxiang, the Zijin Temple, and the idyllic Frog Village featuring a myriad of exotic amphibians are just a few of the highlights.
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Tianjin, meaning “the place where the emperor crossed the river,” is one of China’s four municipalities and faces the Bohai Sea. This one-time regal port city serves as Beijing’s significant gateway to the sea and draws visitors in with its natural resources and historical heritage. Its diverse and extensive list of attractions, historical events, and natural scenes make it the ideal place to go exploring. Baxian Mountain, Haihe River, the Mt. Panshan Scenic Area, Dagu Fort, and the Temple of the Queen of Heaven are just a few of the popular attractions. The Huangyaguan Great Wall, which many consider a miniature of the Great Wall of China, is a must-see sight.
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Wuhan is located in central China on the Jianghan Plain. The area is river-crossed by the Hanjiang River merging with the Yangtze River. The division caused by the Yangtze creates the “Three Towns of Wuhan,” with Wuchang on the east bank and Hanyang and Hankou on the west bank. It is the ideal destination for visitors to find natural wonders and historical and cultural highlights. The Yellow Crane Tower and the Hubei Provincial Museum are the city’s top two cultural attractions. Amazing eateries, exquisite shopping along iconic Han Zheng Street, and a bustling nightlife are also found in Wuhan.
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Wuxi is situated on the northern bank of Tai Lake, the third biggest body of freshwater in China. It’s situated on the southern border of Jiangsu Province. The city is affectionately referred to as the “Land of Fish and Rice” as it was an important port city with a bustling cloth and rice market before the 19th century. In recent years, with its quickly developing industry, it has become one of the top 50 cities in China and is known as “Little Shanghai” for its booming economy. It boasts magnificent natural attractions with highlights such as the Second Spring, the Sea of Bamboo, and the Huishan Mountain.
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Xiamen is an island city that is quickly emerging as the most sophisticated city in southern China, boasting European city-style architecture and a seaside promenade. It features several incredible attractions, including the Island Ring Road, Zengcuo’an, and the Nanputuo Temple. While this island offers much to do and see, many who visit use it as the stepping-off point to travel to Gulangyu Islet, a smaller island of just 4,000 households off the coast. The island is unique in that it doesn’t have cars or bikes. Gulangyu is an UNESCO World Cultural Site, featuring 19th-century European mansions, white sand beaches, leafy promenades, and a rich heritage of classical music.
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Xian is one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization, located in the central northwest area of China. It serves as a living history book, recording all the major changes of the country and preserving over 3,000 years of history, including the more than 1,000 years it served as the capital city of ancient dynasties. It is home to the Silk Road’s eastern terminal and the site of the iconic Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty. Visitors are drawn to this city to explore and marvel at the multitude of cultural relics and historical sites, including the Bell Tower, Yangling Mausoleum, the City Wall, and Huashan Mountain.
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Yunnan is located in China’s southernmost province, bordering the neighboring countries of Laos, Burma, and Vietnam. It boasts various natural scenery, landscapes, and ethnic groups, making it a diverse area to explore. It is best to view it as east and west territories with the west consisting of valleys, mountains, and the famous Three Parallel Rivers. In the east, visitors will find a plateau area featuring low round hills and mountains as well as a scattering of fault basins. There are 51 of the 55 minority ethnic groups in China in this region, which is one of its main draws offered by the various tours that explore these cultures.
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Zhangjiajie is situated in the west of Hunan Province featuring crystal-clear streams, precarious peaks, expansive karst caves, and dense forests. In the early 1980s, Zhangjiajie National Park became the first national park in China, and was thrust into the eyes of foreign travelers after the movie Avatar was released, whose Hallelujah Mountains were inspired by the Heavenly Pillar located within the park. There are a multitude of natural wonders to explore within the city, but the main highlights are the national park, Tianmen Mountains, and the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, the highest and longest glass bridge in the world.
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Zhuhai is located in the Guangdong Province at the Pearl River Delta’s southernmost point and is among China’s five special economic zones. To the east it faces Hong Kong, and crosses the sea to join Macau in the south. This garden-style coastal city boasts 146 captivating islands and features an idyllic, massive green area, giving the city a contemporary eco-resort feel. It is well known for its wondrous hot springs, golf clubs, shopping boutiques, and exquisite dining opportunities. The Fisher Girl Statue, Pearl Island Amusement Park, Meixi Royal Stone Archways, Baiteng Lake, and Huangyang Mountain are among its main attractions, while the islands of Goalan, Dong’ao, Qi’ao, and Hebao are the best to visit.
25 Best Places to Visit in China
- Beijing, Photo: Courtesy of chrwittm - Fotolia.com
- Shanghai, Photo: Courtesy of Gang - Fotolia.com
- Shenzhen, Photo: Courtesy of marcuspon - Fotolia.com
- Chengdu, Photo: Courtesy of babble - Fotolia.com
- Chongqing, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Dalian, Photo: Courtesy of Kittiphan - Fotolia.com
- Guangzhou, Photo: Courtesy of mathisa - Fotolia.com
- Guilin, Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Fernandez - Fotolia.com
- Hangzhou, Photo: Courtesy of gui yong nian - Fotolia.com
- Harbin, Photo: Courtesy of m0skit - Fotolia.com
- Huangshan City, Photo: Courtesy of studiolaska - Fotolia.com
- Lhasa, Photo: Courtesy of wusuowei - Fotolia.com
- Lijiang, Photo: Courtesy of efired - Fotolia.com
- Nanjing, Photo: Courtesy of jiawangkun - Fotolia.com
- Qingdao, Photo: Courtesy of Gang - Fotolia.com
- Sanya, Photo: Courtesy of Waldteufel - Fotolia.com
- Suzhou, Photo: Courtesy of lapas77 - Fotolia.com
- Tianjin, Photo: Courtesy of kalafoto - Fotolia.com
- Wuhan, Photo: Courtesy of Aania - Fotolia.com
- Wuxi, Photo: Courtesy of zjk - Fotolia.com
- Xiamen, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Xian, Photo: Courtesy of eyetronic - Fotolia.com
- Yunnan, Photo: Courtesy of Svetlana Nikolaeva - Fotolia.com
- Zhangjiajie, Photo: Courtesy of fike2308 - Fotolia.com
- Zhuhai, Photo: Courtesy of kikujungboy - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of asiastock - Fotolia.com